The cold can be both terrifying and inviting. Some dread the harsh winds and cold nights, while some wait eagerly for the turn of fall into winter so they can embrace the brisk outdoors. Whether you’re trying to spend your winter hiking up and down the mountains during backpacking trips or inside a cozy cafe waiting for the spring, you’re going to need a high-quality jacket to get you there.
In this post we will show you the best, warmest, and most comfortable jackets. And just in case you read “feathers” and immediately started getting grief from your conscience, we’ll make sure to tell you which jackets comply with the Responsible Down Standard. This means that they’re responsibly-sourced, and animal cruelty is otherwise kept in check.
Carry on reading to see our picks, or jump straight to our number #1 pick here.
- What to Look For in a Down Jacket
- What Did We keep in Mind While Looking For Jackets for You?
- Here’s How We’ve Determined the Best Down Jackets
- #1: Rab Microlight Alpine Down Jacket (Best Overall)
- #2: Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer 2 (Best for Comfort and Convenience)
- #3: Patagonia Silent Down Shirt (Best for Around Town)
- #4: Columbia Delta Ridge Down Jacket (Best Bang for Your Buck)
- #5: Rab Neutrino Pro Jacket (Best for Extreme Cold)
- #6: Montane Featherlite Down Jacket (Best for Ethical Buyers)
- What About the Cheapies? Our Best Budget Products
- #1 Budget Product: REI Co-op 650 Down Jacket 2
- #2 Budget Product: Rokka and Rolla Ultra Lightweight Puffer
- How Will a Down Jacket Keep Me Warm?
- How Long Should My Down Jacket Last?
- How Do I Wash My Down Jacket?
- Verdict: The Best Down Jacket for Each Use
What to Look For in a Down Jacket
Before salespeople and social media teams start throwing nonsense terms at you and confuse you into making pressured decisions, we’re here to make sure you know what they’re talking about, and what you’re talking about, while looking for a down jacket.
Fill Power: Fill-power is the number that you’re likely to see and hear the most while shopping for your new jacket. Fill-power is the unit used to measure how effective the down layer is for insulation. In short, it’s telling you how well insulated your insulated jacket is. It’s calculated by measuring the number of cubic inches the down can cover per ounce. So if a jacket has an 800 fill-power, then the down filling can cover 800 cubic inches per ounce of down filling.
Fill-power is an extremely useful metric for getting an idea of how warm a jacket will be. The average jacket lying around your local department store is likely somewhere between 400 and 500, but you really want a jacket with at least 600 fill-power, if you plan on spending any time exposed to serious cold.
Fill Weight: Fill-weight is the actual amount of down that is used in the insulation of the jacket. This is where some retailers may like to get sneaky. A jacket that has a 700-fill power and only 3 ounces of fill, might not be as warm as one with 5 ounces of 650 power-fill. So with the fill-power usually front and center on the specs of the jacket, but the fill weight sometimes more hidden, it’s important to remember to check both the power and the fill weight.
Total Weight/Warmth-to-Weight Ratio: The total weight of the jacket is what will likely give you the best idea of just how tough or rigid the jacket might feel.Sure, some manufacturers have all sorts of clever designs to somehow make full pound jackets flexible and breathable, but usually the heavier the jacket, the tighter, less maneuverable, and less packable it will likely be.
Personal preference is big here. Somebody who truly hates the cold might not mind a super heavy jacket if that means being properly protected. Those who plan on camping or hiking throughout the late autumn and winter might need something that keeps them warm, but not at the cost of feeling too immobile or of overheating after getting that heart rate up.
This is where that ever-so-important warmth-to-weight ratio comes in. This is more of a subjective term than a hard metric, but it’s exactly what it sounds like: How warm can the jacket keep you without feeling burdensome? Checking the fill-power, fill-weight, and total weight of the jacket is a great way to get a read on how effective it will be as well as how comfortable and fitting.
What Did We keep in Mind While Looking For Jackets for You?
Criteria #1: Warmth – Obviously, you need your jacket to keep you warm. How warm is more nuanced. Some people need the warmest jacket in the universe. Some people just want something warm enough while still being comfortable. So we’ll make sure to cover that and everything in between.
Criteria #2: Functionality – Functionality includes a lot of things. The best jackets are fit for different conditions, whether they be frigid, brisk, active, passive, wet, dry, or anything else.
Criteria #3: Comfort – Do you like it when your sleeves droop awkwardly over your fingertips? Do you like it when your hood is down hugging your neck and constantly smacking your neck? Do you like not being able to reach above your head? Yeah, me neither. Which is why we’re going to make sure you know which of the jackets on this list are not just functional, but comfortable.
Criteria #4: Price – We’re not here to make you spend a ton of money for no reason. Meeting this criterion is less about being cheap and more about justifying your price. We’d rather buy an expensive product that’s cheaper than it should be than waste money on a cheaper product that isn’t worth the money and that will just tear or age or not perform well.
Here’s How We’ve Determined the Best Down Jackets
In addition to plenty of research, we measured the specs of the top jackets on the market against our listed criteria to see how they held up and if they’re worth buying. We then checked customer reviews, blog posts, and “best down jackets” articles to see if the products on our list performed as advertised.
And without further ado, here is our list – tailored to your specific needs – of the best down jackets.
#1: Rab Microlight Alpine Down Jacket (Best Overall)
This hooded-jacket is the most balanced option available for everyday wear and moderate outdoor use. It’s one of the most water-resistant and all-around weather-resistant down jackets out there.
Down jackets usually struggle compared to synthetically-insulated jackets in their ability to handle water, but the DWR coating applied to the down fill, as well as to the Nylon fibers lining the jacket, make this piece make water-resistant for longer and help it dry quicker. Because the down itself is treated with the finish, and not just the shell fabric, it can withstand the burden of water for much longer than the average down jacket, rivaling many synthetic-insulation jackets.
Its lining is designed to allow for perspiration to leave the jacket, maximizing breathability by allowing water out as you break your first sweat on the way up the hill. These features all make it perfect for casual use, as well as front-country outdoor use, like moderate hiking, fishing, hunting, camping, etc. It comes with two zippered hand pockets as well as a zippered chest pocket. It cinches at the hip-length hem, and it comes with a stuff sack for effective compact packing.
Its weight is 15 ounces, which is a little bit heavy for a jacket that could get a lot of performance use. But its high-quality design still manages to provide a ton of breathability. The super-adjustable hood is great for enabling you to take care of those really tricky spots around the forehead that even some otherwise warmer jackets fail to cover.
The Rab Microlight Alpine comes with two zippered hand pockets as well as a zippered chest pocket. It cinches at the hip-length hem, and it comes with a stuff sack for effective compact packing. It’s $280 cost is pretty standard for one of the best jackets around. Like all Rab jackets, it is responsibly sourced and certified as such by the RDS.
#2: Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer 2 (Best for Comfort and Convenience)
One could easily argue in good faith that the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer 2 is an even better down jacket than the Rab. This responsibly-sourced, RDS certified piece is the best of the best among ultralight down jackets, providing warmth and flexibility.
Reason #1: Weight-to-Warmth Ratio
The warmth-to-weight ratio on the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer 2 is absolutely off-the-charts. With 800 fill power and a total weight of just 8 ounces (about half the weight of a container of coffee), this has both higher fill power and less weight than the Microlight Alpine hooded jacket. This ultralight down jacket was designed with extreme comfort in mind, with a clever gusseted design at the shoulders that maximizes maneuverability. Bottom line, this is the best down jacket for staying warm while still feeling loose and comfortable.
Reason #2: Self-Contained Stuff Sack
Many of the great down jackets out there come with a stuff sack to allow you to easily and compactly carry with it, but the Ghost Whisperer 2 takes it to the next level. Inside the right zippered hand pocket is an attachment that allows you to literally pack this jacket into itself. Many consumers have said they often lose the small and flimsy stuff sacks, so Mountain Hardwear responded by making that literally impossible.
Just like the Rab Microlight Alpine, this jacket has a DWR coating on the down fill to enhance water resistance, but it isn’t quite as breathable and doesn’t deal with perspiration as well. Reviewers don’t seem to think it can handle rain quiet as well as the Rab can, but it’s still impressive. Although it has a higher fill power, it might not always feel warmer. It’s stuffed with a down that’s better at trapping air (i.e. has a higher fill power), but only has 3 ounces of fill weight compared to 5.4 from the Rab.
It comes with a hefty face value price tag (less without the hood), although it seems to be pretty easy to find on sale.
#3: Patagonia Silent Down Shirt (Best for Around Town)
Not all of us get to live in Miami or San Diego. For some of us, just going out on a Saturday night to socialize means grabbing one of our best jackets. Patagonia kept those of us in mind with one of the most fashionable jackets around, their stylish, 700 fill power, Silent Down Shirt. Its polyester lining and shell fabric make it soft and comfortable on the inside while being flexible and easy to maneuver on the outside.
The jacket is pretty heavy, with a weight of just over a pound. But it’s snug as a bug in a rug, and despite the weight is still fluid and stylish enough to wear around town. It has two hand pockets with an internal microfleece for added warmth and comfort, and a chest pocket on each breastplate. It has a lower fill power and warmth-to-weight ratio than both the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer 2 and the Rab Microlight Alpine.
But at the end of the day, it’s still an insulated jacket that is plenty warm enough for bar-hopping in downtown Chicago or Boston. If being dressed to impress is a priority of yours, then this piece from Patagonia is likely to be the best down jacket for you.
#4: Columbia Delta Ridge Down Jacket (Best Bang for Your Buck)
The Columbia Delta Ridge Down Jacket might be one of the most practical pieces of anything that you’ll find anywhere. This 650 fill-power, water-resistant, thermo-reflective, temperature-regulating zip-up might be the best down jacket for the dollar.
Although it’s not even at 700-fill power, most reviewers are very vocal about finding it extremely warm, beating out jackets with more fill power. All of those temperature-regulating insulations must be pretty effective for trapping body heat. They’re also quick to praise it as being very light for such a functional jacket.
The shell fabric is treated with a DWR finish to make it water-resistant, but unlike the Ghost Whisperer and Rab jackets, the down itself hasn’t been treated. Having a water-resistant shell fabric is one thing, but water-“resistant” does not mean water-“proof,” and if the external layer starts to falter, then the unprotected fill is done for. This jacket can certainly handle a little bit of rain in a pinch, but it might be best not to push that “water-resistant” label to extreme lengths.
This jacket has two zippered hand pockets, as well as two separate internal pockets. The biggest con of this piece is that it doesn’t come with a stuff sack or offer any sort of compressibility. If you want to bring it camping or put it on halfway up the mountain after enjoying the warmth of the base, you’re gonna half to make plenty of room. This can be a deal-breaker for some of the outdoorsiest consumers, but it’s a practical jacket with an excellent warmth to weight ratio and at an extremely reasonable price. Most high-end down jackets can go for $300 or more if you don’t catch them on sale, but the Columbia Delta Ridge is $149 at full price.
It is not RDS certified, and therefore may or may not be responsibly-sourced.
#5: Rab Neutrino Pro Jacket (Best for Extreme Cold)
Rab now has two jackets on this list, with its second entry being an extremely different option than the first. This is not a performance jacket. This is not a jacket for staying warm while also staying loose. This is a jacket for those of us who think that the worst parts of the day are the walk from our house to our car, our car to work, work to our car, and our car to home.
The Rab Neutrino Pro has a weight of one full pound and five ounces. This heavyweight down has 8 ounces of hydrophobic 800 power-fill and is protected by a tough-as-nails Pertex Quantum Pro shell fabric. Its hefty build plays more like 900 fill-power or 1,000 fill-power than 800 fill-power, and it’s weather-resistant and durable. It’s heavy, but it’s ridiculously warm, ridiculously durable, and surprisingly comfortable. This jacket is perfect for braving truly frigid winters for people who live in places where that’s an issue, or for some wintertime camping. It’s probably not mobile enough for real climbing, but it’s definitely warm enough.
It has a ridiculous price to come along with the rest of that ridiculousness ($375), but there’s not much that can beat it up, so it should provide plenty of longevity. If you take care of your Neutrino Pro, it will take care of you.
#6: Montane Featherlite Down Jacket (Best for Ethical Buyers)
The Montane Featherlite Down Jacket stands up to the competition just on its quality alone. However, it also brings an added layer of ethical consumption and sustainability to the table. Obviously, it’s Responsible Down Standard certified, but that’s just one layer. It’s certified by Allied Feather and Down as well, a company so prominent regarding their mission to bring sustainability and ethical sourcing to the down industry, that they are even responsible for shaping many of the protocols of the RDS.
Montane’s patented HyperDry ECO finish is applied to the down, which gives you an added layer of protection from the rain as well as being Allied Feather and Down certified to guarantee they don’t use any fluorocarbon chemicals. As explained by somebody who only barely understands it, this loosely means that the manufacturing process doesn’t involve any substances made out of fluorine, many of which have shown to be ozone-depleting.
This jacket weighs about 13 ounces and change, so it’s a little bit heavier than some of the elite, lightweight jackets we’ve seen. But with its high fill-power and weight, it provides plenty of warmth from an athletic-fit and comes with a stuff sack and a great fully-adjustable, removable hood. And that’s before considering the moral element.
I don’t get paid to tell you what’s right or wrong, but the people who do seem to really like this jacket.
What About the Cheapies? Our Best Budget Products
Most high-quality down jackets cost at least $200. Once the price dips below $150, you can bet the manufacturers are skimping out on fill-power, fill-weight, or durability. But for people who need the best jacket possible while still saving, we did our best to find the best budget jackets for $100 or less.
#1 Budget Product: REI Co-op 650 Down Jacket 2
The REI Co-op 650 Down Jacket 2 is about as affordable as down jackets come without really sacrificing warmth. It can challenge some jackets with 700 fill-power or more. For just $100 face value, the 650 Down Jacket is reasonably light (11 ounces), is warm enough for everyday use, has a DWR finish on the Nylon shell fabric, and packs into its own pocket (just like the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer 2). It’s not particularly flexible and might not be quite warm enough for active-performance like climbing, although with a 4.2-ounce fill weight, it honestly might be up to the task.
This jacket lacks some little comforts of more expensive ones, like an adjustable hem or hood. But it’s warm, not super heavy, can handle some light rain, can pack into itself, and is RDS compliant, all for $100. A reliable jacket that’s easy on the conscience, easy on the wallet, and good enough to get you through winter sounds like a pretty good deal to me.
#2 Budget Product: Rokka and Rolla Ultra Lightweight Puffer
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The Rokka and Rolla ultralight down jacket is considerably cheaper than even the REI Co-op 650, at just $59.99 full cost. However, it lacks any sort of water-resistance, which is a pretty big deal. With a 650 fill-power, it should be warm enough, but reviewers were a little critical of its warmth.
It weighs about 9 ounces, so it’s pretty light for such an affordable jacket that has the same fill-power as the option from REI Co-op. The fact that it’s very compressible into its own stuff sack is a pretty big sell. It’s hard to find jackets this packable without spending much more money. Frankly, it’s hard to find functional down jackets at all without spending much more than this.
How Will a Down Jacket Keep Me Warm?
Because the winter world around us has a much lower temperature than our own body, body heat is in a constant state of trying to escape to the cold air around us. That’s why you need an insulated jacket, to help trap some of that warmth. While synthetic-insulation jackets typically offer better water resistance, jackets that use a down feather filling for insulation are typically lighter, more comfortable, more flexible, and easier to pack. This is all without really sacrificing anything in the way of warmth.
Down jackets are stuffed with the plumage of the bird, or the layer of fine, soft feathers that sits on the underside of its belly. These are underneath the coarse surface layer of bigger, tougher feathers. The surface layer isn’t designed to keep the bird warm, it’s designed to help with flying and floating and other bird stuff. The down feathers are intended to help keep the bird warm, which is why they provide such great insulation to help keep us warm!
Down is very soft and compressible while still being warm, which is something scientists have had a difficult time recreating with synthetic-insulated jackets. This makes down jackets much easier to pack than jackets that use synthetic insulation.
The synthetic jackets won’t soak up water and become saturated the way down will. If your down fill becomes saturated with water, it will be pretty much useless, providing no insulation. That’s why many of the best down jackets have been treated with a DWR finish. DWR (or Durable Water Repellent) is intended to repel water with hydrophobic chemicals, that will keep moisture out, and at its best designs even expel existing moisture. So down feathers that are given a DWR coating might even be able to go toe-to-toe with synthetic water-resistance.
How Long Should My Down Jacket Last?
This is a little bit of a soft science. Obviously, there’s a whole lot of variance involved in how long each person’s jacket will last. But if you take absolutely immaculate care of it, it should be able to last at least five years, even pushing on ten.
First things first – don’t let it get too wet. Saturation is responsible for some of the most taxing damages a down jacket can take. Even if it has a DWR finish, you should make absolutely sure that your coat isn’t being exposed to more water than it can handle. If the insides of the jacket are starting to feel water-logged, then it means the DWR is already starting to fail, and you should’ve had that thing out of the elements five minutes ago. Now, say the worst happens, and your jacket is forced to brave hours in the rain. This isn’t a death sentence (in the next section, instructions on cleaning your jacket should help with this), but it’s certainly something you want to avoid in order to preserve your jacket’s longevity.
Other forms of maintenance can also go a very long way towards keeping your jacket in working order for longer. For starters, try to minimize the amount of time your jacket spends packed up. When you’re not out and about with it compressed into your backpack or stuff sack, it should be on a hanger in the closet. This will allow the down-fill to maintain its fill-power for as long as possible. If your jacket is spending too much time suffocated in the bottom of your hiking bag, the down fill will start to over-compress and will take gradually more and more time to reach its maximum loft after each time you pull it out. Save yourself some time and comfort waiting for your jacket to settle on you and hang it up when possible.
Washing your jacket is important (again, we’ll cover a lot about that in the next entry), but being careful not to wash it too often is just as important. Spot cleaning when possible is highly advisable. Just a very small, damp, warm, cloth for the minor stuff, and maybe the same but being very stingy for bigger issues.
Last but not least, do not pull out loose filling! If down feathers are poking themselves free of your shell fabric, either try to push them back in or ignore them. If there’s a tear or breach in the shell fabric, duct-tape is fine, but only if you’re okay with leaving it there. Because if you try to remove it to replace it with a more permanent fixture, you will likely do more damage than you were trying to prevent in the first place. Scotch-tape is a much better temporary alternative, as removing it won’t create enough friction to damage your jacket.
For convenience, some retailers sell precut, adhesive patches for extremely easy and effective repairs. Otherwise, the best thing to do is to cut up any soft and durable enough material into an oval (you want to avoid leaving the patch with any edges that can catch or easily falter), and apply it to the breach with adhesive.
How Do I Wash My Down Jacket?
Experts say that if your down jacket is getting considerable, weekly use, then it should be washed about once a month. So if pretty much every weekend you’re going hiking, or camping, or fishing, or whatever, then you should be adhering to that once-a-month bench-mark. If your jacket is getting most of its use just keeping you warm from your house to work and back, then just two to three times a year is perfectly alright. If you’re somewhere in the middle, probably about two or three times a season.
Now, on to actually washing it. This is one of those simple, menial tasks that can be very intimidating until you actually do it, but there’s nothing to it. Just make sure to load your jacket into a side-loaded machine. (If it’s a top-loaded machine then the agitator – that big spoke in the middle – could damage the jacket, so make sure it’s a side-loader.) Wash on a cold setting with down cleaner added. Regular detergent can damage the lining and any special finishes the jacket might have, so making sure to get down cleaner is very important. You can purchase them anywhere. NikWax, ReviveX, and Granger are a few of some of the most respected brands. Wash the jacket for two cycles to make sure it gets a thorough rinse.
For drying, just put it in at a low heat for as many cycles as is necessary. Putting a couple of tennis balls or something of a similar size and weight into the machine will help the jacket regain its fluffiness, but anything with too much weight can damage your jacket, so be careful.
Verdict: The Best Down Jacket for Each Use
The Rab Microlight Alpine Jacket is the best down jacket on the market for the average consumer.
If you want the best value for money, pick the Columbia Delta Ridge.
If you want the most comfortable and luxurious jacket available, get the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer 2.
If you want the best option for making sure you don’t shiver once this winter, pick the Neutrino Pro Jacket.
If you want to keep your conscience clean, pick the Montane Featherlite Down Jacket.
If you want to keep the spending cheap, pick the REI Co-op 650 Down Jacket 2.
Some retailers know how to boast about their impressive traits while ignoring the mediocre ones. It’s not just about fill-power, or fill weight, or total weight, or anything else. Make sure you keep all of the variables in mind together when trying to find the best jacket for yourself.